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Naked Before God in Community: But I’m an Introvert!

The other day, I asked for your comments at the end of the post “Naked Before God: In Community (2)”, and I would like to thank those of you who commented. The reason I asked was that I believe that this topic has almost run its course, at least as much so as I am going to take it for now, and I wanted to see if someone would mention something I should have covered.

Many thanks to Steve B. who gave me the comment with the subject I hadn’t thought to address: Introverts.

The really ironic thing about it is that like Steve B., I am INTP-A on the Briggs test. That’s right gang, I am one of those introverted characters who hates parties, social events and… community in general; I would much prefer to be alone and unnoticed. The funny thing is, quite a few people that I know, have no idea that I am an introvert, particularly if they only know me from seeing me in front of a room full of people, for being in front of a room (public speaking in other words) has never been even the slightest problem for me; maybe that’s because of the “A” part which stands for assertive.

At any rate, in my mind, being introverted is sort of a given, and it hadn’t even occurred to me to mention it.

Most of the time, spiritual gifts and personality traits are more or less in harmony, so that extroverts are more likely to have leading gifts like leadership, exhortation or teaching. They might also have gifts such as hospitality, while introverts more commonly have serving gifts like helps or service or mercy. Yet for some of us, God has seen fit to give leading gifts to introverts like me. As a result, we are called to serve in the place where our service is uncomfortable; that is my story. I can truly tell you that God is strong where I am weak, and thus, He is glorified by my weakness in certain areas. While this is encouraging, it is still uncomfortable.

I really don’t know why God gave me a personality that doesn’t want to be noticed, and called me to leadership where you must be noticed… but that is the reality of my situation. Yet I can tell you that even though I dread those situations, when the time comes, He more than compensates for what I lack and people seldom suspect there’s a problem. The long and short of it is this: When God calls you to serve, go where He leads you secure in the knowledge that He will sustain you. Where God has given you spiritual gifts, use them, even if it’s scary, for God will be glorified in your discomfort.

The whole theory of naked before God in community however, is not really dependent upon our personality types, for it is instead dependent upon the quality of our relationships with Him. Please note that I haven’t called this “naked before the community”, I’ve called “naked before God in community”. In community with other believers, God is present in the midst of His people, and our nakedness is before God. It follows that our spiritual nakedness will spill over into our relationship with the humans who are also present. The key is for us to perceive His presence in the midst of the people, and as believers in the promises of Scripture, this perception is not as difficult as one might assume at first, once we have a little practice looking for Him.

Does this sound abstract or theoretical to you? Please believe me when I tell you that it isn’t; it is entirely practical. If you’ve never read it, or even if you have, please read a very short little book called The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence; you can find it online for free. It is a classic of spiritual discipline that is on required reading lists in Seminaries of every denomination, and it is so simple and easy to understand that a child can master it in an hour or two. Brother Lawrence will tell you how to be naked before God in community.

I know that for the introvert, this whole subject can seem a little bit daunting, but in truth, we introverts have a decided advantage over the extroverts, for we do not crave attention, and are unlikely to perform in front of others, thus we must rely upon God in social settings… or just hide in the darkest corner of the room until we can escape. We also have more time available to be alone with God, and this gives us an enhanced opportunity for a deeper personal relationship with Him. If we recognize that our apparent disadvantage is actually an advantage, with a little effort and a degree of faith, we can let God do amazing “naked” things in and through us.

Once again, please don’t hesitate to tell me what you think!

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Naked Before God: In Community (2)

It is vitally important for each of us to realize that our relationships with God are always in the development process; they are organic and alive. They must be cared for, nurtured and attended to; they suffer setbacks when they are put on ignore or relegated to mere forms. From God’s point of view, as revealed in Scripture, His desire is for intimacy with His people, both on an individual and corporate level, and to achieve this intimacy, He has done great things. When there are difficulties in this relationship, the genesis of disconnect is found on the human side, not on the divine side.

I’ve noticed that in this discussion of naked before God in community, that there is hesitancy on the part of some with regard to any level of openness in community, or at least to a level of openness that goes very far beyond mere formality, and the reason for this unease is a lack of a feeling of safety. Obviously I cannot speak for others, and I have no inclination or desire to dismiss another’s discomfort; for all I know they have every reason to be uncomfortable. All I can really offer is this: If you find yourself in a faith community where hostility and condemnation of other brothers and sisters in Christ is the norm, then why are you still there? If you are part of a denomination in which this is the norm, then why are you still in that denomination?

Once upon a time, I was speaking with a pastor who was having some marital difficulties. He was speaking to me about the situation because he couldn’t discuss it with anyone in his denomination, for if his congregation should discover that he and his wife were going through difficulties, he would surely be fired, even though he had faithfully served that congregation for many years. Before I could catch myself, I blurted out: “What have you been teaching your flock all these years?” As mortified as I was at my own lapse in the area of tact, he had been teaching a great deal of finger-pointing and legalism, and even though his marital situation wasn’t in difficulty because of sin or affairs or anything of that sort, he had taught his congregation to always assume the worst and point fingers; very sad. The truth of the situation was that his wife was an introvert, and could no longer deal with always being in the spotlight and having to meet the unrealistic expectations of others for “the pastor’s wife”.  My friend lost his job when his wife went to stay with her sister for an extended visit.

You see dear reader, the problem often is that there is no openness because there is no feeling of safety, and there is no feeling of safety because there is no openness.

The good news is that most congregations are not like this. Yet most every congregation contains one or more individuals who behave in a similar fashion, and it is important for each of us to bear in mind that these people are also “works in progress” just as we are.

There is a misconception in the minds of some people that being naked before Go in community means that we must stand up in front of everyone and bare all, reciting every sin, evil thought and temptation to the rest of the community, and nothing could be further from the truth! While such a demonstration might be therapeutic for the speaker in certain cases, it would be nothing other than a distraction for everyone else; it would not build the Body of Christ. Rather, being naked before God in community means to be open and honest in our relationships with the people in that community. It means being real, sincere, genuine, loving and forgiving; it means being as much like our Lord as we can manage. It also recognizes that some are farther down the path of maturity than others, while each is doing what he or she can at their level of growth.

It requires that we “get naked” in the sense that we learn leave off the facades and the pretense; it means we are who we really are, instead of who others expect us to be. In the end, it will mean that we are imperfect, just like everyone else.

Is this transformation too difficult?

The answer to that, quite honestly, is “yes and no”

It will be difficult if we need to replace one façade with another façade. It will be pretty much impossible if we haven’t developed the habit of being naked before God. On the other hand, if we have developed the habit of being naked before God, then sooner or later we will move that “nakedness” into community without even having to try, for it will have become a part of who we are. I hope this doesn’t seem to be too lacking in tactfulness, but the chances are that if you feel too uncomfortable with the notion of ‘naked before God in community’, you probably need to give extra attention to your individual relationship with Him right now. If you think that you have been ‘naked before God in community’ for a very long time, and that you are way down the path of maturity, way beyond most everyone you know, then you might want to do some soul searching, since most of us find that we are not quite as far along as we like think we are.

As always, I look forward to your comments and observations. To be fully candid with you, they will determine where we go next in this discussion…

Nakedness, Tough Guys and False Expectations

The tough guys never bothered me in Junior High School; that is something you should understand right from the first. Yet even though they didn’t bother me, they bothered everyone else, unless you were one of my friends. I was what one of my teachers called “an early bloomer” which I took to be a reference to the fact that when I was 12 years old, I was six feet tall and under my mother’s strict orders to shave every day.

That particular year was the year that my classmates and I went from Elementary School to Junior High School, and we had been told by everyone that bad things happen in Junior High School. In Junior High School, you went from being the oldest in the school to the youngest, and the oldest in the school, the ninth-graders loved to pick on the seventh-graders. We would be bullied, badgered, thrown into trash cans and beat up periodically, and the girls would laugh at us. We would be required to take PE (physical education) and in PE everybody was required to shower together before you could leave. Oh yes, and all of the classes would be harder and move faster, and you might not be smart enough to make it through.

Yet these are the horror stories we heard from teachers; the ones we heard from older kids were truly terrifying. If the truth were to be told, I wasn’t all that concerned about the ninth-graders; I knew that I was bigger and stronger than most (all as it turned out) and that I was an excellent athlete, so I figured I could probably deal with any eventuality in dealing with the tough guys. I wasn’t worried about the classes being harder; after all I was often teased for being a “brainiac”. Being laughed at by girls was something I was used to… except in dodgeball where they begged for mercy, which was always granted. The only thing that really concerned me about going to Junior High School was the showering part; that would be very awkward for me.

The funny thing about that is that I used to skinny dip with my friends quite often in our old neighborhood, but two years previously we had moved to a new neighborhood, to a house that had no pool, on a street that had no kids my age. This was a new development in that I was, at the time, isolated to a certain extent; I had to ride a bus to school, and I had no friends near my house, so no skinny dipping for over two years now. Yet the real problem was that everything about me had changed since then, and while I would never had admitted it at the time, I felt like something of a freak. I wondered if I was the only one. Some of my classmates’ voices were beginning to change by then, but I had finished with all of that over a year ago, and none of my friends were even thinking about shaving… was I going to have to beat people up in the showers for making smart remarks about… changes? Talk about awkward!

Let’s remember friends that these are the thoughts and insecurities of a 12-year-old…

As it turned out, when school started that September, I was right about some things, and wrong about others: I was right about the ninth-graders; not one of them ever gave me any trouble, and I actually became quite accepted in their midst. I was right about the classes; easy peasy. I was also right about the tough guys in general; no problems with them. In fact, they ended up being quite friendly. The girls still laughed, and since there was no dodgeball after Elementary School, I had no way to keep it under control, so I had to endure their peculiar form of torment and torture. My mother told that they did it because they liked me, and that’s when I knew that she had lost all semblance of rational thought.

The showering part however, I was completely wrong about. On the very first day, I noticed something very interesting: There were no tough guys in the showers. They might have been what toady is called “bullies” before the shower, and after the shower, but never in the shower, for in the shower they didn’t have their tough guy pants, and their tough guy boots and shirts; no, there they were just like everyone else. Oh yes, it turned out that I wasn’t that much of a freak after all, I was just the tallest. What had seemed so uncomfortable, so awkward, was not nearly as scary as I had thought it would be.

Junior High School was a cakewalk.

The more I think about it, the more I must conclude that nakedness is the most brilliant metaphor of all time, for it so richly illustrates what we go through in building relationships; with friends and co-workers, family, spouses and most of all with God Himself. More to the point, it illustrates the process of growing in community with other believers.

I fully realize that like moving on to Junior High School, this seems difficult, but also like Junior High School, it isn’t as difficult as we might expect. Oh I know that there are church communities in which many are waiting for the chance to point fingers of accusation at others, as they hide behind their attractive masks of phony righteousness; I’ve had plenty of people tell me that they find themselves in such a location. Each time I hear such things I can’t help but wonder why they would remain there, if it is all that bad.

Of course, if we are in the habit of being naked before God, being naked before God in community really isn’t as much of a challenge as it might sound when you really think about it. Next time, I’ll continue along this line of thinking; see you then!

Naked Before God: In Community

There’s a title you don’t see every day!

Up to this point we have been discussing being naked before God in our own personal worship, individually; just God and you. This can and should be a wonderful time, regularly observed. Yet it is not the end of matter by a long stretch; rather, it is the beginning. God made humanity for community, and His purpose and will is that this community would be in fellowship with Him, thus becoming His very expression of who and what He is; we saw quite clearly in our examination of His image that this was His intention from the very beginning.

For most of us however, it is one thing to be naked before God in privacy and safety, but it is quite another thing to be naked before one another in any sense of the term. Certainly in the literal physical sense of the term, the notion of baring all in front of others is simply outside the scope of what is even thinkable or acceptable, and you will no doubt be relieved to learn that I have no intention of going there, for that is entirely too simplistic and hardly scratches the surface.  You see, this isn’t a matter of simply baring body; it’s a matter of baring soul, of being real, genuine and letting people see who we really are. It is about trusting, caring and loving others in a way that allows us to put their interests ahead of our own, not just in word, but in deed.

Last week, paulfg commented on one of these posts that he saw for the first time that “naked” actually means “relationship”, and I thought that was a very wise and insightful observation, for that is what it really comes down to. Yet it isn’t just relationship, it goes deeper, to the quality of the relationship. Recall that for us to be naked before God means that our relationships with Him are intimate, open, no holds barred, with everything out in the open. There is no holding back, no attempts to deceive and no barriers of any kind. To be naked before God in community with other believers is that there is the same level of openness between us and the others as there is between us and God, and obviously, such a human community requires that there be many who have matured enough in their relationships with God to be able to handle this level of intimacy with other people.

This dear reader is what it means to make disciples; it begins with godly love.

Far too many Christians are under the mistaken impression that making disciples is little more than making “converts”, but nothing could be further from the truth. Making disciples is really the ultimate act of love in action wherein we lovingly guide another into the kind of maturity that will enable them to become makers of disciples themselves. One who “makes” disciples is a mentor, a teacher, a trainer, and most of all, an example. He or she is one who can share the love of God and love of others in a way that brings their younger brother or sister into a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ. That person is one who loves, shares and leads others, he or she is one who lets their guard down, who respects, who trusts, who sets ego aside for the benefit of others and who lives in such a level of transparency before both Man and God, that they inspire the legitimate trust of others; they are naked before God and in community with others.

To be honest with you, most of us haven’t quite attained the ideal we’ve been talking about here. Most of our churches are not doing as well as we’d like, many are shrinking, others may even be on life support. Many have left “church” behind, and are happy to share a litany of complaints about churches they used to attend. We can come up with a long list of possible causes for this sort of thing, yet most of our lists, while accurate, don’t really tell the story. They will speak of over reliance on traditions, forms and details, but these are only the symptoms; the causes of the problems run much deeper than that. If I might be so bold, the biggest problem in American (and I suspect other) churches today is that there are not enough people who are really naked before God, needless to say, there are even fewer who are “naked” in community. I’m not sure about you, but I think this is worth getting into next time.

Naked Before God and Spiritual Discipline

Have you ever heard someone say something like… “This morning while I was in the shower it came to me that…”? Maybe you’ve had something like that happen yourself; I know I have.

I wonder why that is…

Maybe things like that happen sometimes because we are in a safe and private environment without outside distractions. Maybe things like that happen because we are relaxed, enjoying one of life’s little luxuries, enjoying the sensation of the warmth of the water on our skin as we put the cares of life aside for a few minutes; I’m not really sure, but it sometimes happens that in the midst of this time alone, ideas seem to come out of nowhere.

I recall vividly a time about 20 years ago when I realized that I was praying in the shower; I had started do so without being entirely conscious of it, and then I sort of “woke up” to the fact, and I was shocked at my own lack of reverence, and scolded myself for it: “Oh Lord, I’m sorry, please forgive me for praying while naked!”

That’s when it hit me that I still was… Yikes!

It really bothered me; even more so when it occurred to me that I had probably prayed in the shower many times without noticing my “offense” to God. As it turned out, that was a good thing, for it was the catalyst for my study of this subject. I can’t help chuckling now at my consternation at the thought of studying to figure out just how much trouble I had inadvertently gotten myself into.

As I’ve mentioned previously in these posts, nakedness is as much a state of mind as it is a state of being, and in the context of privacy and safety, it can be very relaxing. Not surprisingly, many over the centuries have found it useful as a spiritual discipline. There is something that takes place when we set aside our protective coverings in God’s presence; I’m thinking this is because we have taken away the last vestiges of separation between us and God in our own minds, bringing about a more tangible form of intimacy and transparency that is difficult to express or quantify.  One thing is clear though, and that is that often physical nakedness is just as much a state of mind as it is a state of being. I realize that some, who read this might bristle at the very suggestion. Yet if this is what you’re thinking, ask yourself a question: Why?

If we believe the Bible when it tells us that God created us, and that humanity is the pinnacle of His entire Creation, and that He created us in His own image, body, soul and spirit, then why would we think He would be put off by our physical bodies? Why would we be ashamed in his presence? If He was inclined to be put off by us, would He be more likely to be put off by our nakedness or by our covering our bodies with the fashions of this world?

Now remember, we’re talking about being in privacy and safety, not in the local shopping mall…

Pastor Ed Raby, Sr. has written a series of posts on nakedness as a spiritual discipline, and while he approaches the subject a bit differently than I do, I would suggest that for anyone who is interested or curious about the subject, his thoughts are worth checking out on his blog All Things Rabyd. His index for this series can be found here.

I realize that for some this suggestion may not be for everyone, which is true of most of the classical spiritual disciplines, for God relates to each of us where we are, not at some arbitrary point. Yet I am confident that for many, it would be a worthwhile practice from time-to-time, just as fasting is a worthwhile practice for many at various times.

In our next discussion on this topic, we’ll move into the area of naked before God and others… but don’t freak; we will be strictly back in the metaphorical.

Naked Before God: Trials and Tribulations

Praying in true humility can be difficult for us, particularly early in our Christian walk, yet for many of us, getting through the trials and tribulations of this life may be even more difficult. These are times of disappointments, problems, hardships, and sometimes these can lead to despair and desperation; we might even begin to wonder if God has forgotten all about us. Even worse, we might begin to think that God is exacting punishment upon us for something we have done or not done; oh yes, these are hard times indeed.

More than any other time in this life, times of hardship are times when we need to approach God’s presence holding nothing back, laying everything out in the open, times when we need to bare all before the God who sees all anyway. This is not only a time for praying in humility, it is also a time when we need to be honest about our doubts, frustrations, fears and disappointments, for when we are candid with God, He will usually be candid with us, if we are willing to listen to Him.

Have you ever read the Psalms?  How often David cried out to God; how often David asked Him pointed questions about his struggles and misery! Do we dare do the same?

Here’s something to think about: David was no more perfect than you or I, David experienced many hardships, some of which were caused by his own poor decisions, and some caused by human treachery and just plain evil; David questioned God and exhorted Him, yet through it all David kept his faith and in the end he was said to have been a man after God’s own heart.

Few of us experience more hardships than David did, and fewer still will make the same mistakes David made; why then are so few of us willing to be honest with God about our struggles and doubts?

God desires intimate relationship with us, very intimate. God knows our hearts and our thoughts; why not just be open and honest, rather than trying to act as though we had no doubts, no fears, no questions? You see, dear reader, this too is being naked before God. As for me, I have dealt with struggles both ways in my journey with Him; some I have held back, acting as though I was not affected, while other times I have taken my doubts, concerns and frustration to Him openly. In the former cases, I relied upon my own strength, which is considerable if I were to be honest with you. In the latter cases, I have received His strength in dealing with difficulty: Do you really need to ask which set of circumstances worked out the best?

Needless to say, through my own trials and tribulations I have learned that being completely open with God is the best policy, even (or especially) when it isn’t very comfortable.

I hope that you will share your thoughts with us on this issue!

Naked Before God: Praying in Humility

It has been longer since my last post in this series than I would have liked; as you may recall when I last posted on being naked before God, I was giving the first practical suggestion: Recovering the wonder of being in His presence.

I’m sure that some of you might have thought it a bit strange to combine practicality and childlike wonder together as a “step one”, and if you reacted along those lines, I can hardly blame you, for it is counter-intuitive.

But then, the things of God usually are…

Believe it or not, there is actually a rationale for this “wonder” business, for you see, when we find ourselves in wonder and awe at God’s awesome Creation, or at being in His presence, our walls, barriers and defenses start to crumble; we stop holding back and begin to give it all up to Him.Lords Prayer

We are never “naked” if we are hiding behind a barrier of some sort.

Clearly, step one is to recover that since of wonder and awe before God!

Step two is to pray with humility.

Humility hides nothing, it holds nothing back, and it gives all to God with total honesty and a lack of shame, guilt or self. Humility is submission to God, His ways, plans and will; it is the recognition that He is God and we are not. Humility has no agenda.

Can you see why that childlike awe and wonder is so important? True humility isn’t something that comes naturally (in earthly terms) to most of us; we have walls and barriers we aren’t even aware of in most cases, for humility is far too intimate, and those defenses become an impediment to our relationships, in this case, our relationship with God, and they need to come down.

So, with all of that said, what does praying in humility look like?

The disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, and in His response, He gave them a wonderful example which we often call the Lord’s Prayer (Matt. 6:9-13; Luke 11:2-4). There are differing teachings about this prayer, some believe it was intended to be recited, others teach that it is more of a template; I join with the latter thinking, while acknowledging that there is nothing wrong with reciting it. As a model for prayer, there are a few very fascinating things contained in it:

In Matthew 6:9-10, that God’s greatness and glory are acknowledged first, followed by His Kingdom, which is always His top priority, followed by the request that his will should be done on earth “as it is in Heaven”, where His will is the only will that is done. Think about it: Jesus taught that first and foremost we should pray that the Kingdom that He was proclaiming should come, and that God’s will would be the only will done on earth, just like it is in heaven.

There’s no room for my will; there’s no place for my latest “wish list”, for this is praying in humble submission to God, not a prayer advancing my own agenda.

In verse 11, we acknowledge that it is God who supplies our physical needs, and in verse 12, we ask to be forgiven our sins to the extent that we forgive the sins of others against us; another act of humble submission. Finally, we pray for God’s deliverance from evil, and if you think about it, since this is preceded by a big dose of humble submission to God, we are really saying in this that we are not relying on ourselves in anything; not on our own cleverness, not on our own strength, but instead are giving everything up to God and placing our complete trust in His provision for everything.

This, dear friends, is being naked before God.

Having mentioned this, I should point out that what I have just said about the Lord’s Prayer is a thumbnail; I have written on it in much greater depth more than once on this blog in the past; right now I simply want us to see what praying in real humility looks like. Many are there, and have been for a long time; others… not so much. My main thought and purpose here is this: No matter how mature we are, or think we are, we can always benefit from a periodic look in the mirror to ensure that we are still on track. Perhaps this might be a good time for some reflection.

My plan is to post again on this subject tomorrow with another suggestion for you to consider; see you then!